The Power of Three

“I’m not dead yet!”

Sorry for the extended silence over here. I’ve actually written a small handful of posts in the past two months, but they were either too trivial or too whiny or involved too much navel-gazing. So I deleted them and decided to wait until I could fit all those qualities into one post.


I’ve been busy writing. And deleting and editing and writing and deleting some more and . . . I swear, I will never participate in NaNo ever again. I suspect I’ve deleted or completely re-written every single word spewed forth in November. Mind you, I think NaNo is a terrific thing for writers if it works for them. I’d absolutely recommend that any interested writer give it a try, because you never know what might work if you don’t try it. But it’s just not a good fit for my writing process. Geez. I’ve never had to do such a major overhaul.

There, that takes care of the trivial whining portion of the post.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about marketing. Trying to think like a reader. Luckily, I am one! In fact, I am a voracious and highly experienced reader. So I’m the perfect person for me to ask about what works in terms of marketing books [just nod and agree as if that made sense].

What works for me? When I discover a new-to-me writer and read a book of theirs that I really like, the first thing I do is check to see whether they’ve written anything else. If they have, I’ll buy another book. If I like that, I’ll buy a third. And a fourth. And probably the entire backlist, provided it’s priced such that my budget can handle it.

But what happens when I read a book I really like and there are no more books by that person? Well, of course, I make a mental note to remember that person’s name. Because that works so well. Not. Sure, I could make an actual list. But I know how hard it is to write a book. I hope that person will write another, but I’ve seen dozens of writers disappear in my decades of reading. So I’m not counting on it.

Seeing an author’s name once or twice is not going to make it stick in my brain, no matter how much I might have enjoyed their writing. There are just too many other books and authors out there. And I read A LOT. But three times . . . there’s something memorable about that. Seeing something three times, searching Amazon three times, buying an author’s books three times, and — this is KEY — really enjoying something three times. That would leave a lasting impression, even with me.

Now, the importance of having a backlist is not a new concept. I’ve heard it from several sources, but probably heard it first from Bob Mayer. He has an uncanny knack for being way ahead of his time. Our time? The times? Whatever. I’m sure his prescience is a direct result of all those alien abductions. Anyway, I remember him saying there’s not much point in marketing your books until you’ve published at least three of them (there’s that number again).

I’ve decided to take that advice a step further. I’m not going to publish any of these stories I’m currently writing until I have at least three of them ready to go. Because if someone really likes a book I’ve written, I want them to be able to buy another one immediately. And, if they enjoy that, yet another. I might never get a second chance to capture that person’s attention. There are just too many other books out there.

I want that person to remember my name when future books are published. I figure three books ought to do it. I might be wrong. I have no statistics or publishing experience to back this up. All I have is my intuition and experience as a reader. But I’m pretty average in terms of remembering things [just nod and agree, humour me] and it seems to work for me. It makes sense to me.

As a writer, putting books out there as soon as they’re ready to go is a seductive prospect. Everyone does it that way, even traditional publishers. It would certainly satisfy my towering impatience. I also think it’s a mistake.

Yeah, I know, most of you reading this post already know my name (as well as my new pen name) and will argue that you don’t want or need to wait until I have three books ready. I know that, and I’m sorry to make you wait. Really, I am.

But I’m sort of hoping to sell books to more than five people. Looking at this from the perspective of an unknown reader, it just doesn’t make sense to rush to publication and do this piecemeal. The importance of seeing things from that perspective, being aware of the discovery process of the unknown reader, is something writers can’t afford to ignore in this new realm of DIY publishing.

So if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t published anything yet, that’s why. Yes, I could have. But just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should. And I believe there are compelling reasons why it would be foolish to do so.

Of course, none of this matters AT ALL if no one enjoys the books. So, back to working on that part of it.


Filed under goals, marketing, self-publishing

16 responses to “The Power of Three

  1. McB

    As much as I’d like to read your book *now*, as a reader I have to admit to impatience when there’s no backlist. And sometimes I remember to keep looking and sometimes I forget the author and even the title of the one I did read. So … Yeah I guess there’s some logic to your plan.

    So write faster.


  2. Lou

    Testing… testing…


  3. Lou

    OK – That worked!

    I tend to agree with you about the power of 3 – like Robyn Carr’s novels being written in groups of 3 with them coming out in consecutive months.

    I know that when I find a new author, I’m always thrilled to find that they have a back list – like when I found Carla Neggers, thought she was a relatively new author and then found an extensive back list. Kept me* entertained for quite a while!

    However, I will say that if I had not found any more books by her, I still would have kept her in my thoughts anyway – especially if she had a web site…


  4. Arnold J. Snodgrassworthy, III

    I feel impelled to make a comment, though I have nothing to say.
    So I am doing so.


  5. Arnie — do you mind if I call you Arnie? or I could just call you Merry — thank you for making the effort to comment in spite of the lack of, er, substance. Your obedience diligence is much appreciated. *snort*

    Lou, you’re right, really talented authors tend to make a lasting impression with the first book. But I don’t think I’ll ever be in the same class as Carla Neggers, so I need all the help I can get.

    McB, I figure this way I’ll at least avoid the dreaded “second book syndrome” — this happens when the first book is declared a rousing success and then the writer goes into a panic that the second won’t live up to it. This way, I’ll be well into writing the fourth before the first is ever read and it just won’t be a problem. I hope. Or it might give rise to the dreaded “fourth book syndrome.”


  6. Midwest Mania

    I left a scintillating reply last night that disappeared into Word Press World. So, I just ask, “BookS done yet?” 🙂




    Ohio is in the Ohio River Valley. Everyone knows this. It is an established fact.

    And yes, at least one of the bookS is done. Sort of. I need to recruit some delta readers. Soon.


  8. Bob Mayer

    Good luck with your books. You could always test the waters a little– my main thing is don’t spend a lot of time promoting and marketing with only one or two titles.


  9. Thanks, Bob. It’s such a delight to see how successful you and Jen have been with the business. It’s good of you to share with the rest of us what you’ve learned along the way.


  10. McB

    You are correct about the second book thing. The first one, everything goes into it, and it’s polished to perfection. After that, they lose steam.

    I’m sure Snodgassy and the confused Ohioan would agree.


  11. diane65

    I’m not as good as I would like at remembering recommendations or checking up on authors that I loved in a first book, so I must, reluctantly, allow your point. But I’m looking forward to reading whatever you write, whenever it comes out! Or sooner.


  12. McB, most writers spend YEARS working on the first book that gets published (usually not the first book they write). And generally, publication comes in the form of a 2- or 3-book contract and includes deadlines. So that person is writing to meet a deadline for the first time ever, while at the same time putting in all the marketing effort (for the first book) that a publisher requires. Pressure! It’s a wonder the second book ever gets written at all. Kind of hoping to avoid all that, but who knows.

    Thanks, Diane! This plan is already testing my patience, so I’m with you on the reluctance thing. But I think it’s making me write a bit faster. Or spend more time writing. Something like that.


  13. Arnold J. Snodgrassworthy, IV

    If you have a truly distinctive name, it is easier to be remembered. I’ll let you use my name for a modest fee. Plus free copies of your books, of course.


  14. Gee, Arnie, that’s really sweet of you to offer. But a name is such an individual thing, and it looks like you already share yours with at least two, er, three other people. Plus, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to contemplate whatever it is you might consider to be “modest.” So to speak.

    But maybe we can work out a deal on that whole free books thing.


  15. Richard Maguire

    Hi KD.
    I came across your book on recently, and just wanted to say how much I enjoyed it.

    Your sense of humour reminds of Cornelia and her blogs on Murderati. And I can understand how it has landed you in trouble. I’ve been to the States many times – I’ve a lot of family living out West – and one thing always strikes me about some Americans. How they just don’t get irony. Everything you say is taken at face value . Whereas most Europeans would know you’re kidding. Yeah, that kind of thing can land you in trouble, for sure.

    I loved your chapter on dealing with that happy-happy bank teller. I have met her a lot in my travels out West. I usually check to see whether she runs on batteries, or has a key in her back. Hope the writing is going well.


  16. Hi, Richard! I suspect you are the only person in Germany (perhaps Europe!) to read that book. I’m delighted to hear you enjoyed it. And what an outrageous compliment, comparing me to Cornelia. Wow. Thank you.

    I tend to think of my dry sense of humour as being part of my Scandinavian heritage, so it seems fitting that I might be less often misunderstood in your part of the world. Maybe someday I’ll venture forth and see Europe up close and personal. I imagine that would involve getting dressed and finding my shoes, so maybe not any time soon.

    Thanks so much for making time to leave a few kind words here. Totally made my day.